LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A panel of young adults, or millennials, spoke to the Justice Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) during the spring meeting April 11.
The panel discussion featured David Wigger, Laura Strickland and Monisha Smith, and focused on ways to get young adults in the church, why the church wants young adults to be part of the congregation and what compels young adults to be part of the church.
All of them pointed to the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program as a prime reason for their involvement in church.
Wigger, a seminary student who grew up in Louisville as the son of a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor and seminary professor, said he went through a phase when he did not want to be part of the PCUSA. He said he began to see a dark underbelly of the church and grew skeptical, turning away, particularly while in college. He later returned and became involved in YAV, which helped him rediscover his faith.
“This world is messed up. The idea of being able to fight for justice and equality appealed to me,” he said. “We need God if we have any chance of wanting to be as close to His miraculous work as we can be.”
Strickland also grew up in the Presbyterian Church. She belonged to the church but said she did not understand fully what that meant at the time. She took a job working in community organizing with a faith-based group just out of school but felt it was a bit manipulative.
As she turned back to church and her faith, she became involved in the Hunger Program, and assisting with that endeavor gave her the sense of belonging to the church and what it was all about.
“I’ve seen the church grapple with some huge issues and learned what it is like to live in this difficult world,” Strickland said. “I have seen how brokenness affects people. But I’ve also seen how you can be rooted in compassion and love in the church, and that’s what keeps me here.”
Smith, from Wilmington, Del., grew up “loosely” attending a Presbyterian church. She attended a Presbyterian school, had Jewish friends and an Indian mother. She said she was confused even though at her core she felt she was a Presbyterian.
She also became involved with YAV and has been active within the church, putting her political science degree to good use by seeking to change the world.
“I want to be engaged in some greater purpose, something that makes a difference,” Smith said. “People our age want to be doing something. This (the church) is where I want to be.”
Wigger said having a purpose for being in church is more important than the music or activities offered.
“It’s more than that,” he said. “I’ve been to churches where they have gimmicks to get young people to come. I see through that. I want something more.”
Strickland added that an authentic worshiping community that crosses generational boundaries has been a key for her involvement in the church.
Smith said she just wants to be part of what is going in within the life of the church.
“It’s not the things that attract me there, it’s simply a matter of being there,” she said.
All three young adults pointed to YAV as a good starting point to help attract millennials to become part of the church, noting that it teaches so many things to participants, who in turn provide assistance to make a difference in the lives of others, that opportunity to challenge the ills of society.
“We need to find ways to give this same opportunity we’ve had to people who may not have it otherwise,” Wigger said.
Smith said there’s a feeling of being part of a greater community when engaging in such work supported by the church.
Roger Gench, vice chair of the PMAB Justice Committee, spoke of the radical nature of discipleship seen in millennials and was struck by what Christianity has done with young adults like Wigger, Strickland and Smith.
Board member James Ephraim Jr. mentioned a desire to see young adults engage and equip all realms of the socioeconomic spectrum, further emphasizing a need to have them continue working in church integration and communities rather than merely leaving when their work time came to an end.
“Being a part of a program like this (YAV) allows us to serve with the dwellers – people from that area – and train and share with them,” Smith said. “We try to equip them to function when participants leave. There is a lot of excitement from people who receive this information we have to share.”
Wigger added that the “sanitized Jesus approach” is not one that should be taken. Instead, he touted the need to get busy.
“It’s a matter of rolling up our sleeves and working for a cause,” Wigger said. “That’s what we need to be doing and what we want to do.”
Committee recommendations approved
Five recommendations brought before the full Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) by the Justice Committee were passed during the April 12 meeting.
Four of those involved adding various groups/agencies to the Approved Affiliates List.
Those included the Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition and National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women; the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (The Social Justice Network); the Interfaith Immigration Coalition; and the Tax Justice Network. Additionally, the approval gave the Office of Public Witness and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy the authority to work with the Tax Justice Network on issues of fairness and transparency in taxation.
The Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition, convened by Jewish Women International in 2007, is a national effort for faith-based organizations to come together to provide policy and legislative guidance on domestic violence issues.
The mission of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, founded in 2003, is to nurture, sustain and mobilize the African-American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders address critical needs or human and social justice within local, national and global communities.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is a partnership of faith-based organizations committed to enacting fair and humane immigration reform that reflects the mandate to welcome the stranger and treat all human beings with dignity and respect.
The Tax Justice Network promotes tax justice and tax cooperation, and resists tax avoidance, evasion and competition, doing so on an international scale.
A recommendation also was approved in reference to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) voting records, affirming the proxy voting recommendations of the Committee of MRTI; to request the PCUSA Foundation/New Covenant Trust Company and Board of Pensions to vote proxies on the shareholder resolutions submitted to companies in which they own stock; and to urge the middle governing bodies, related institutions, congregations and individual members of the PCUSA to give serious consideration to the proxy voting recommendations when they vote on shareholder resolutions.
The resolutions concern social and ethical issues related to the (129) corporations’ business operations and policies. MRTI adopted recommendations on voting of proxies in support of or opposition to the resolutions, or whether a formal vote of abstention should be recorded.
The Worshiping Communities Committee also had its lone recommendation approved by the PMAB. That recommendation was to name three new church developments as recipients of the Sam and Helen R. Walton Award. The three churches – New Vision Church (Conover, N.C.) of Presbytery of Western North Carolina, Synod of the Mid-Atlantic; Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras (Plainfield, N.J.) of Elizabeth Presbytery, Synod of the Northeast; and Bare Bulb Coffee (Warner Robbins, Ga.) of Flint River Presbytery, Synod of South Atlantic – were selected and recommended by the Mission Development Resources Committee during a March 18 meeting. Each church will receive a one-time award of $35,000.